What is Theatre Jazz?

By Lesley Mealor / Edited by Samantha Bellerose, B.Ed, Dip.Dance (Performing Arts)

Theatre jazz, or theatre dance, is a style of dance which includes traditional jazz dance technique with the addition of storytelling through acting. Jazz dance by itself sometimes includes elements of storytelling, but in theatre jazz, it is required. 

Historically, dance in musical theatre was used as filler in between scenes. Only in the musical “Oklahoma!”choreographed by Agnes de Mille, was dance first used as a plot device to further the story. This is where we see the beginnings of theatre jazz as a true storytelling mechanism. 

In the context of a dance class, theatre jazz will begin with a traditional jazz warm up, across the floor exercises often highlighting a phrase that will be used later in the combo, and a combination. For women, character heels may be preferred depending on the context of the combination. 

Many theatre jazz teachers will take liberties with what music they use for a combination – most often you will hear music from a musical, but many teachers use other styles of music and “theatricalize” the movement to tell more of a story. In a theatre jazz combination or routine, you can expect to clearly understand the beginning, middle and end of the story you’re telling through dance, and you may be asked to come up with a character to play within the movement.

Theatre jazz is a fun, unique style of dance that is excellent for not only dancers, but actors and singers wanting to expand their training. In theatre jazz, the emphasis is not on perfect technique or fantastic flexibility, but on the ability to convey a clear story through movement and acting.

This page is just one of hundreds of definitions of the many styles and genres of dance. This library is being continually added to by the writers and contributors of Dance Parent 101!

About the Author

Lesley Mealor

Lesley Mealor is a dance industry professional, with over 15 years of experience in all facets of the dance world, from dance education and adjudication, to dance retail and product development, to on-stage experience. A graduate of Oklahoma City University with a degree in Dance Performance, Lesley serves as the co-host of Making the Impact - A Dance Competition Podcast, and is a director of events for Spirit of Dance Awards. She resides in New York City with her plants and her cat, Charlotte.